When we set a budget, devise a meal plan, and shop for what we need, no matter how tight a ship you run, at the end of a week there will always be endy-bits. Recognise these small left-over bits as crucial to prudent meal planning, saving you money that can be put to another use.
Often, retailers and other food businesses, such as restaurants, have food left at the end of the day. We will look at an innovative food app that helps food business find a market for their would-be-waste while you get great food at a super low price – and get a night off from the kitchen. That’s a win-win!
There are some quick, easy, and low-cost preserving techniques. These come into their own for making something more from bargain bin items. Where seasonal vegetables are on special offer, knowing what can be done with them allows you to take advantage in a big way.
Before we go any further, a few words on food banks. Food banks are a service that, in an ideal world, shouldn’t ever exist. But they do, and unfortunately reliance on their service is increasing.
For some, they make a choice between eating and doing something else: to eat or heat. It’s an astonishing state of affairs that makes me profoundly uneasy and sad. But, as essential as they are, too often food bank food lacks basic nutrition.
Food isn’t just about delivering calorific energy, our bodies need more than that: protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals.
I would love to see more fresh foods donated to food banks, but I also recognise that, in the UK, food banks have stopped stocking potatoes as people can’t afford the energy to cook them.
Irrespective, food banks should not be a dumping ground for unhealthy food: fresh potatoes over cheap frozen pizza, not the other way round.
I admit, there are days when I look at my perfectly penned weekly menu and decide today is not the day for that thing I thought I should cook. Instead, this is a good day for raiding the fridge (and the freezer and presses) and rustling up something new, exciting, and heretofore unknown from remnants, endy-bits, and that sad looking scallion.
Fridge raiding can feel like an adventure of Indiana Jones proportions. I love it!
Half a red pepper, that lank-looking scallion, a couple of eggs, a tin of tomatoes, a dribble of natural yogurt and a tiny piece of cheddar? Eggs in Purgatory!
Half a bag of frozen peas and some leftover curry paste? Pea Curry!
A tin of mackerel and left-over mash? Fish cakes!
A leek and two large and sprouting potatoes? Soup!
Half a tin of chickpeas, a bit of lemon and some parsley that’s about to go over? Chickpea dip!
You get the picture. You might not always be able to guarantee what it’s going to taste like, but as they say, it’s not the destination but the journey!
Having a decent store of spices is a great way to elevate any dish. Forget expensive small glass jars and seek out your local Asian supermarket for large packets of spices at a fraction of the price. Buy one here and there as budget permits, and before you know it, you’ll have a library of spices.
OK, I’ll say it one more time before I leave well alone: leftovers are brilliant and food waste is money in the bin!
Fill tortillas with leftover chilli. Strip what remains from a roast chicken and use in a risotto, curry, stir fry, or pasta dish.
Odd bits of salad vegetables can be brought together and topped with tinned fish for a nutritious meal.
Make a fondue from weird bits of random cheese, and baton that half a carrot for dipping… Everything that was something first can be made into something anew.
Preserving food is a sure-fire way to stretch the budget and, if you’ve picked up something from a bargain bin or bulked up on special offer veggies, knowing some basic preserving methods will be the difference between making use of your special buy or throwing it in the bin – and you know how I feel about that!
Freezing: If you have a freezer, make use of it by storing vegetables and fruits that freeze well. Carrots, parsnips, green beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cabbage, brussels sprouts – these are all vegetables that freeze well.
Peel and prep and blanch for 1 minute in salted boiling water, drain, bag, cool and put in the freezer.
You can make up bags of mixed vegetables too for soup, ratatouille, or stir fry mix.
Chop onions, bag, and freeze. Job lot of tomatoes? Cook down and portion for a pasta sauce base.
Soft fruits often turn up in the bargain bin: cherries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, bananas. All will freeze well, just remember to destone cherries, hull strawberries, and peel and slice bananas first!
Frozen fruits are perfect for adding to smoothies, breakfast granola toppings, or cooked into sweet pies.
Bread rolls, seasonal breads and some cakes can also be stored in the freezer, as can cream, yogurt, milk, butter, and some cheeses (cheddar is perfect grated and bagged).
Drying: Tie bunches of bargain bin fresh herbs together and hang somewhere dry and with good air flow. It costs nothing, takes a few days, and when brittle-dry store in glass jars.
Dried herbs have more intense flavour than fresh and can be cooked in sauces, etc, for a long time to impart flavour.
If you have a few odd bits of bread that aren’t fresh enough to eat any more, leave out overnight to turn fully stale then blitz in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Leave them naked, or flavour with herbs, bag up and pop in the freezer. You can cook breadcrumbs straight from frozen, so take only what you need when you need it.
Pickling: Table salt, white sugar and white vinegar are among some of the cheapest of staples you can buy in bulk, and you need all three if you want to pickle things! Sugar or salt based, everything else then is a bonus: mustard, fennel, and cumin seeds, black peppercorns and bay leaves are all great in pickling liquor.
Radish, cucumber, fennel, white cabbage, cauliflower, and onion pickles are all wonderful for making the most of bulk buy veggies and, after mellowing for a month on a shady shelf somewhere, add a mouth-puckeringly delicious crunch to lunch plates, salads, and sandwiches.